Lee McCarron is the founder and head coach of the Halifax Road Hammers. He also has a 2:27 personal best in the marathon and is featured in the September/October 2017 issue of Canadian Running magazine. We asked Lee to share some of his top workout tips and suggestions for specifically preparing for the marathon distance.
“This may sound daunting to beginner runners, but the marathon is one distance where you can’t go out and fake it at all,” says McCarron. “You need to spend time putting in the work, and grinding through the training.”
“Six weeks out from race day, I have my athletes complete a 36K long run with the last 18K alternating between one kilometre at half marathon pace and the next at marathon pace.”
One of the benchmark workouts McCarron gives his athletes is called “the roller” and includes running four sets of 15-minutes (actually three by five-minute intervals run consecutively at increasingly faster paces). This totals 60 minutes of “work” with a short (thee minute) rest between each set. For each set, the first five minutes are run at marathon pace, followed by five minutes at half marathon pace and a final five minutes at 10K pace. This workout is about 90-minutes including a warm-up before and cool-down after and is given about four weeks before the race.
Four weeks out marathoners run a 35K run all continuous, but with the first 16K run easy as a “warm-up” followed by 7K at marathon pace; 5K at half-marathon pace and the final 7K at marathon pace. “This is a really important effort with the focus being marathon simulation,” says McCarron. “You’re tired from the first 16K and yet then force the body to run marathon pace and a segment even faster than that. The goal is to stay focused and relaxed, and not to force the pace. We also focus on practicing our fueling as we would during the race.”
Speaking of fueling, McCarron recommends trying to take water and/or Gatorade at every (approximately 5K) aid station. “Most people don’t get much liquid in, but it’s important to continue to try and get some at every station.” He also suggests taking gels or chews including one about 30-minutes before the start of the race and then one every 8K or so. “Almost everyone finds it hard to get fuel in late in the race, but you want to try and push back hitting the wall as far as you can. You don’t have to get all of the gel down, but some is better than none.”
In the final two weeks before race day, it’s taper time and this is similar to most builds in that total mileage decreases but the number of quality sessions remains. “Our taper includes a workout of four by one mile repeats ten days out of race day; three-to-four 2K repeats at half marathon pace about one week out; and a final workout four days before the race of 5 x 2 minutes at 10K pace with a 60-second jog for recovery in between.”
“For any runner, success is based on being consistent and staying healthy. As such, listening to your body is critical in ensuring you’re not getting worn out, injured, sick, etc. You really need to focus on the little things such as sleep, diet and stretching to ensure that you stay healthy throughout the build, and are ready to go come race day. Having confidence in your training plan is also key. It’s important that you trust the process and believe in your training plan.”
From nutrition to fueling, to pacing (including shorter segments of the race), executing a marathon takes time and practice, including preparations on race day. “For success in the marathon, you absolutely need to have a race plan. I’d suggest sitting down with your coach–or on your own if you don’t have one–and going over all the details of race day.”
McCarron offers one last bit of advice: “Don’t stress about the uncontrollable, such as the weather. Be flexible and remember to stay relaxed.”